On October 25, in Oakland, in a pre-dawn raid, hundreds of police officers from 18 different police departments descended upon 200 protesters camped out at Oakland City Hall. Protesters were awakened by police in riot gear determined to wreck the place. Police fired beanbags and tear gas canisters at protesters, and arrested around 87 people.
By the late afternoon, outraged by the brutality of the police, hundreds of people, growing to over one thousand by the evening, showed up to protest and attempt to re-occupy what’s become known as Oscar Grant Plaza. Hundreds of riot police surrounded the plaza, setting up barricades. As the number of protesters began to grow – the police decided to fire flash grenades and tear gas canisters into the crowd of protesters. Several people were hit by canisters, or trampled amidst the chaos – an Iraq war Veteran, Scott Olsen, 24, was hit in the head by a tear gas canister and remains in critical condition in the hospital. These attacks from the police continued for several hours into the night.
This attack and others like it around the country are in response to an anger that is growing across this country and throughout the world. The target of this anger is an economic system that is ripping apart our lives and slamming the doors to our futures. People are outraged, frustrated and fed up with the policies of a system that only protects the interest of a tiny percentage of the population – the bankers and the bosses and the super rich.
Whether it’s because we can’t find a job, can’t afford to go to school, have lost our homes, are struggling to put food on the table, are forced to do more work for less; or whether it’s because we are sick and tired of tax breaks for the super rich, tired of seeing our retirements gutted, our health care taken away, our funds for the elderly and most vulnerable slashed – whatever our reasons, we have a right to be outraged!
In the past few weeks this frustration has begun to reach the boiling point across this country, springing up as protests and occupations in major cities, small towns, and even neighborhoods that haven’t seen protests in decades. It’s true that the actual numbers of people beginning to participate are still small, numbering in the thousands in the largest protest in New York City, and tens of thousands across the country.
But at the same time, this doesn’t mean that millions of people don’t share in this same anger. Many are outraged but are at work, struggling to put food on the table, or are at home taking care of their kids, or some just don’t yet feel ready to go down to a protest or camp out at an occupation. But the vast majority of the population, of working people, of the 99 percent – are bearing the brunt of these attacks and have the potential to organize together to wage a real fightback.
The potential for unleashing a movement that unites the employed with the unemployed, the evicted and the homeless with the housed, the young with the old, the workers in every industry and occupation across the country – that potential exists, and people are beginning to take notice.
The response by the government to this growing outrage has been to try to erase it out of existence, to squash it before it grows any larger. Across the country, protests and occupations have been met with the brute force of the state. Local law enforcement and police departments have begun to send a message that these protests will not be tolerated, and that our outrage needs to be silenced. And so, in many cities over the past weeks, protesters have been beaten by police, showered with tear gas, and thrown in jail for expressing their opposition to this system.
These attacks are not over and they are not unique to the city of Oakland. Those who run this system have drawn a line in the sand – they are willing to use whatever brutal methods they have at their disposal to crush these protests before they grow into a larger movement.
The question now – for all of us – is whether we will find the ways to broaden and deepen this movement, to extend it to reflect the growing anger across the country, and unite our forces to fight for our own interests.